In the not-too-distant future Dave Rennie might coach the All Blacks but it seems he will take his credentials offshore first.
Thirteen years ago Rennie was the last coach to win a title with any Wellington-based rugby team. After being ousted from the capital, he then transformed Manawatu to recapture the pride and passion of the province on a nickel-and-dime budget, while securing three consecutive World Cup crowns with the New Zealand under-20s. And in his maiden year with the Chiefs, Rennie led the underachieving franchise to their breakthrough title and has booked a spot in this year's final four.
His record, patient progress and reciprocated respect for players is hard to overlook.
Chiefs co-captain Liam Messam described the esteem Rennie is held in: "When the players respect the coach you'll do anything for them."
Along with his high-powered coaching team, Rennie is committed to the Chiefs until 2015. After that, though, he is likely to pursue an overseas coaching position.
A spark of desire to coach the All Blacks now smoulders quietly in Rennie but he fell into, rather than chose, a professional coaching career.
"I would say yes but it hasn't been a burning desire of mine for a lot of years," Rennie told the Sunday Star-Times this week regarding his All Blacks coaching ambitions. "I stumbled into professional coaching. I do it because I enjoy it. I wasn't in a hurry to get involved in Super Rugby. I did it [as assistant coach of the Hurricanes] in 2002. It's been good for me.
"A lot of coaches are in a hurry. They fly into it and two years later they are gone. The timing was right to come to the Chiefs. I've signed for another couple of years. Four years may well be enough for a head coach to be in one spot.
"I've got aspirations to coach overseas at some stage. That could be the next move."
Rennie realises the All Blacks job is hugely competitive and, depending on the management makeup, he may have to settle for the assistant role first. But the astute backs mentor doesn't believe international coaching experience should be a prerequisite for the national job. That is not a motivation for his overseas goals.
"It's probably the way it's worked but I don't think it's necessarily the way it should happen," he said.
Family comes first for Rennie, a genuine people person. His wife Stephanie and their three sons are the main factors in his desire to coach abroad.
"It's more for me the chance to experience another culture and base ourselves in Europe," he explained. "My wife has been dragged around a bit the last few years with my coaching. It would be nice for her to be able to do a bit of travel. The kids would be able to come and base themselves wherever we are.
"You can't plan too far ahead in our game. If things don't go so well, all of a sudden you can be tipped out and you're looking at a different option."
In the future, Chiefs assistant coach Wayne Smith believes Rennie will make the next step up.
"I've got no doubt about that," the former All Blacks coach said. "It's up to him and the family if that's what they want to do but he's definitely got the capabilities."
Timing is everything in the fickle coaching industry. If Rennie continues on his present path and displays the same nous in picking his opportunities, it would be no surprise to see him take charge of the All Blacks after a stint abroad, where he is sure to have no shortage of suitors.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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